The Early Days Of Breastfeeding – What’s Normal And What’s Not?

The Early Days Of Breastfeeding - What’s Normal And What’s Not?

Having a new baby can be a daunting experience, especially if you’ve never spent time around newborns before.

These days, many women and men have never held or cared for a baby before having their own.

It’s also becoming less common to see other women breastfeed their babies.

You might have thought breastfeeding would come naturally to you and work perfectly from the start.

You might feel shocked and upset if breastfeeding doesn’t immediately fall into place.

You could be wondering whether you’re the only one going through all this!

Do any of these questions sound familiar?

  • Is this normal?
  • Should breastfeeding hurt?
  • Should my baby be feeding as often as this?
  • Does my baby need a routine?
  • Do I need to wake my baby for feeds?
  • Am I doing things ‘right’?

This article will explain what’s normal and what’s not in the early days of breastfeeding, so you can enjoy your breastfeeding relationship and feel more confident.

Many Mothers Feel Some Nipple Pain In The Early Weeks

Many mothers experience nipple pain in the early weeks of breastfeeding. It usually stops after initial attachment and typically lessens week by week as you get the hang of breastfeeding.

However, if the pain is severe, and lasts beyond the initial attachment (after the first 10 seconds or so), or if your nipples become damaged (e.g. cracks, blisters), this is not normal and you should seek help.

It’s Usually Normal To Have Lots Of Feeds

It’s common for breastfed babies to feed 8-12 times in a 24 hour period, although some feed as few as 6 times and other as many as 18.

It’s also normal for babies to have cluster feeding periods where they feed many times within a short period of time (e.g. 4-5 feeds within a few hours). During such times, your baby might cry a lot, not settle easily to sleep or only sleep in very short bouts.

If your baby is positioned and attached and feeding well, and is showing reliable signs of getting enough milk, the frequency of feeds doesn’t matter – just be guided by your baby.

If your baby isn’t positioned and attached or feeding well, or isn’t showing signs of getting enough milk, then the frequency of your baby’s feeds might not be optimal.

Feeding frequently, particularly in the early days, helps you to build a good supply. Having a good supply early on correlates with having a good supply later.

An Increasing Number Of Wet Nappies Is Normal

Babies usually have at least one heavy wet nappy on day 1, two on day 2, three on day 3, four on day 4 and five on day 5. After that, babies should continue to have at least 5 heavy, wet disposable nappies (or 6-8 heavy wet cloth nappies) every 24 hours. The urine should be pale in colour. This is a good sign your baby is getting enough milk.

If your baby has dark coloured urine or fewer wet nappies than what is described above, seek advice from your health care professional.

Lightening Of Poo Colour Is Normal

It’s normal for the colour of a baby’s poos to lighten gradually in the early days. For example, your baby’s first poo will be very dark in colour and very sticky. After that, each day your baby’s poos should gradually lighten in colour and become runnier. Typically, by around day 5 they will be runny and a yellowish-mustard colour. These are good signs your baby is getting enough milk.

If this doesn’t happen in the early days, seek advice from your health care professional.

A Degree Of Sleepiness Is Normal

After the first breastfeed (which ideally occurs soon after birth), your baby will probably have a long stretch of sleep. After that, he will typically have sleep periods of between 1 and 5 hours, and his pattern of sleep and wakefulness will be irregular. Wakeful and unsettled periods where your baby cluster feeds are also normal.

As long as your baby stays close to you and is not affected by a medical condition (e.g. jaundice or an infection) or by pain medications used during the birth, he will cue you when he needs to feed. Responding to your baby’s hunger cues makes sure he gets what he needs.

However, if your baby isn’t showing signs of getting enough milk and/or is not feeding well, you might need to wake him for feeds, just until he ‘finds his feet’. Working closely with a lactation consultant in such circumstances is important.

Breast Fullness When Milk Comes In Is Normal

Typically mature milk comes in between days 2 and 6 and it’s normal for your breasts to feel full, lumpy and a bit sore when this happens.

If, however, your breasts become very sore and your baby is having difficulty attaching, you could be suffering engorgement. Read our tips for engorgement.

It’s normal to have lots of questions and concerns about your newborn baby. Most of the time all you need is reassurance. It can help to seek support and information from breastfeeding support organisations such as the Australian Breastfeeding Association or La Leche League, or you could see a lactation consultant.

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Renee Kam is a mother of two daughters, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), a physiotherapist, author of 'The Newborn Baby Manual' and an Australian Breastfeeding Association Counsellor. In her spare time, Renee enjoys spending time with family and friends, horse riding, running and reading.

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